BEL AIR, MD — Plans for returning to in-person learning came into focus Monday night at the Harford County Board of Education meeting. Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Sean Bulson elaborated on the plan that he introduced at the school board’s Sept. 14 meeting for getting students back into classrooms and provided updates on health protocols, devices and other topics.
Oct. 19 is the proposed date for “bringing in our first wave” of students, Bulson said.
Here are the key dates from his plan, which are subject to change:
Oct. 12: Staff members return to work sites
One-day-a-week hybrid program begins for kindergarten through second grade (includes CSP students up to five days a week in those grades)
Limited small-group activities begin for the following:
One-day-a-week hybrid program begins for third through fifth grades (includes CSP students up to five days a week in those grades)
One-day-a-week hybrid program begins for prekindergarten
One-day-a-week hybrid begins for sixth through 12th grades
CSP program begins in middle school up to four days a week
Two-day-a-week hybrid begins for kindergarten through second grade
Dec. 7: Two-day-a-week hybrid possible in all grades
The dates are a guideline to show the pace of bringing new groups back to the classroom.
“There is a chance these will change,” Bulson said, “if we see a spike” in cases.
In addition, “we’ve had to respond to new guidance, new research,” Bulson said.
“This would have been way too theoretical without dates,” Bulson said. “Some people may see that as a promise, which we’re not really able to make.”
Quarantines, Case Counts
At the moment, Harford County Public Schools is operating Learning Support Centers with an eight-to-two student-staff ratio. Para-educators, nutrition workers and 30 to 50 additional staff were hired to help staff the centers, which are designed to help those who do not have internet and whose parents have to work.
When the Learning Support Centers opened Sept. 8, Bulson said 21 people had to isolate or quarantine based on exhibiting symptoms such as coughing. The following days saw 23, 24 and 46 people sent home. On Monday, Sept. 14, he said 49 people were sent home.
Bulson said 83 people were sent home on Monday, Sept. 21, including staff and students, due to possible symptoms.
“There continues to be disruption, but at the same time we have not seen any kind of increase in positive cases,” Bulson said. “We’re still not seeing a huge change in the transmission” of the virus. Rather, sending people home has “a lot to do with people presenting with symptoms.”
The school system has not had any cases of the coronavirus directly linked to the Learning Support Centers since opening and has had zero cases among students, Supervisor of Health Services Mary Nasuta said at Monday’s school board meeting.
She said symptoms that would send people home included things like cough or shortness of breath.
“A sneeze alone” would not merit sending someone home, she said, noting the school system would clarify the symptoms for families.
Class Sizes And Formats
For returning to in-person learning, about eight to 12 students would be in a classroom at one time, Bulson said, with one teacher per classroom.
Teachers will be instructing live for students in the building and virtually for those at home.
At-home learning will mirror in-person schedules, including break and lunch times.
Officials said they were encouraging “bell-to-bell schedules.”
If a teacher is quarantined, a substitute would take over the instruction, Bulson said.
Attendance, Devices, Masks, Immunizations
Starting this week, Harford County Public Schools will be calling parents if students have not checked in online in their virtual classes through the attendance app it is using for online learning.
Since students in kindergarten through third grades don’t have devices, “K to 3 students are all marked present every day,” Director of Student Services Buck Hennigan said.
The school system is waiting on about 15,000 devices that cleared U.S. Customs and Border Protection last week and are in Chicago now, the superintendent said, noting they were expected to be in place by mid-October.
As far as other equipment, there is enough personal protective equipment for 90 days for educators, and there will be masks for students who do not have them.
Students will have to wear masks but can take them off on the playground, which will be cleaned between groups, officials said. This is one of a slew of safety and cleaning protocols that school officials are putting into place to prevent the spread of the virus.
Lockers, cubbies and bathrooms will be modified so every other one is closed, and students will have to do things in smaller groups rather than all at once, officials said.
“We want to be able to come in [to schools] in incremental steps,” Hennigan said.
“There’s going to be a lot of things we need to work through, but I think [in] this virtual environment, what we’re finding is [it’s] really difficult for a lot of kids and a for a lot of our staff as well,” Hennigan said. “Being back in that building even for some students even one day a week is going to be really energizing and really good for their mental wellness.”
Starting Sept. 29, he said students will not be permitted in buildings if their immunizations are not up to date. Letters will be going out Tuesday to let parents know if their children are out of compliance.
Full Return Not In Sight
Had the school system reopened with a hybrid model at the outset of the school year, “It would have been completely unmanageable,” Bulson said at the Sept. 14 school board meeting.
“I do want to see our children back in school and learning,” Bulson said, but he added: “Unless the state changes the guidance about 6 feet, cohorts … we are going to have limits for how many people we can bring back.”
Of bringing back all students, Bulson said: “That’s not on the table.”
It is unclear how many parents will opt in for in-person learning, officials said Monday, and some teachers have also been in touch with human resources about staying remote.
“There are still questions,” Bulson said Monday. “This isn’t ideal for anybody.”
See the Return To In-Person Learning Plan presented at the Sept. 14 meeting and the second part of the plan presented Sept. 21.
This article originally appeared on the Bel Air Patch